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I've always wanted to get into writing but always found myself coming up with increments of an event that already happened or imagine something that would only happen a bit ahead, distracting me from where the story is currently at.

What would be the best plan for this? Backtrack every time I want to give extra detail to what I already wrote/skip ahead while I have the idea for a future event in mind?

(If it's not clear enough) How do I deal with incoming ideas for different moments of the story?

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    Thank you for the edit @Cyn ! I always seem to have a trouble with the words with "every", and don't notice until it's too late – Filipe Carvalheira Jun 25 '19 at 14:44
  • You're probably not aware but by using the planning tag, this is a qualifying entry for our current tag challenge. If you add your entry to the post you can win a big bag of bragging rights! Welcome to the site and happy writing! – linksassin Jun 26 '19 at 5:42
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I am an old-school writer without fancy software (I have tried it and don't like it).

So if I realize a previous event could have been explained better, I will back up and do it. However, I have a special notation in my writing; "NOTE:", and I will usually record one at the point I am NOW and what is going on, before I jump.

If I have an idea for the future, same thing: I keep some pages at the end of the file that contain NOTE:. I try to keep them in relative order, so the most relevant notes coming up are at the top of the list. I will just go add a note to the end, make it as long as I want, then jump back to where I was.

I regularly search for "NOTE" in my writing, usually if I am starting a new chapter, I review my notes to see if any apply.

I have other NOTES in there, sometimes just things I want to remember about a character or her history. Otherwise, if the NOTE is a reminder to write or do something, I delete when it is done, or I decided against it, after all.

Separately I keep a sheet of paper for notes on a map or geography when that applies, whether my setting is a single town, or a whole world. I don't generally do a detailed map before I begin writing, just a rough sketch. I am a discovery writer, so I don't start with a plot and I invent setting locations as I go -- but I want them to remain consistent, and there is no good way to do that in writing, I need a map. So I fill that in, as I go, too.

It's kind of like a messy desk with a lot of post-it notes, but it works better than that for me, because I have a search function!

Some editors will allow you something just like a post-it note in your draft, but I tried that and had difficulty searching them for some reason. (The reason was probably incompetence.)

If you don't really want to buy or learn a new tool, just keep your notes in the text you are writing, with some LABEL you can search for, that is unlikely to appear in your novel. Then you can indulge yourself with being sidetracked; just leave yourself some chalk marks on the walls of the maze so you don't get lost, and make sure you delete them all when you are done.

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  • Thank you for your fast reply! I have to say I'd write in such a simplistic way too, like a basic text editor (heck, the text document in Windows would do just fine), so your answer is incredibly adequate! I have another small question about it though, how do you focus back to where you were, after you side-track? Do you just force yourself to do it? – Filipe Carvalheira Jun 25 '19 at 14:36
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    I'm not sure what you mean by "focus", I type "NOTE" wherever I am writing, then search for it get back. Or if it is short, I remember the page. If you mean mentally focus, then I just reread the scene I was writing. I don't actually WRITE ahead, ever, all I keep is NOTES. My characters will learn and develop before they get to the end, it is pointless to produce actual prose before I get to it. Perhaps some great line of dialogue, or a great description or metaphor, but I never write actual "future" scenes. I don't know how my characters experiences will change them before I get there. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 25 '19 at 14:44
  • That's really the last piece of detail I needed, on how you do those notes, and perhaps that wasn't clear enough and I apologize. Once again, thank you, your answers really helped me out! – Filipe Carvalheira Jun 25 '19 at 14:51
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A metaphor: at the top of the mountain is a well-reasoned exposition of the events of the story along with the reactions of those entities occupying the story; by well reasoned, I mean that the events eventually make sense to the reader by the end of the story. No effects before the causes, no effects without causes, and no causes without effects. The story hangs together and the readers care about what happens.

How do you get there? In our metaphor, there are many paths to the top of the mountain. Let me describe two extremes.

There are the pantsers who have only the vaguest of ideas of where the mountain is or what path they are going to take to get to the top. The standard practice is to write the first draft; analyze the results; identify problems in timelines, locations, names, motivations, and so on; revise the work until most, if not all, of these problems are fixed. If they become aware of a problem while they are writing a draft, they make a note in the draft that can be found easily in the post-drafting stage. [Somehow John has to get possession of the McGuffin before he arrives at Mary's apartment.] TOFIX: when did Bill learn that Sally had once been a high-end stripper?

At the other end of the spectrum are the planners. They architect the story in detail before writing the draft, timelines, locations, scenes, structure. They have the GPS coordinates of the mountain top. They have traced the various paths to the top using Google Earth. They know where they are going and how they plan to get there.

Which one is the right way to write? It depends on the complexity of the story and your personality. I am a planner and I write complex stories. I can write those stories without a lot of re-write because I found and fixed the problems in the planning stage. If your stories are less complex in terms of timelines and environment, but with an increased focus on the inner dialogue of the characters, you might want to spend much less time on the planning.

The trick is to get to the top of the mountain. It might take you traversing several paths to find the right one. Google Earth can only take you so far; feet on the path may well be necessary to learn the things that you need to learn.

My advice is to write. Try things out. Think about what works for you and what seems to be a waste of time. Read the books about the draft of writing. Read other authors to see what they are doing.

Just do it.

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  • From your reply, I would definitely say I am a "pantser". I have ideas but I don't exactly plan before I start writing, I go along and fix things as they appear to have issues. Which is "great" because I don't feel as alone in this process of thinking now but simply means I have to put more work in to clear things out. Thank you! – Filipe Carvalheira Jun 25 '19 at 14:43
  • I am not a "pantser", any more than you are a "plodder". I am a discovery writer. You are a plotter. Discovery writers like Stephen King write complex stories with dozens of characters, the discovery approach has nothing to do with "complexity" of the plot or the characters. The only difference is that you want to exercise your creativity up front, we can exercise exactly the same level of creativity on the fly, by back-tracking and inserting key moments, foreshadowing, etc. And I DO have a plan for the book, I know every beat of the 3AS by heart; I always know where I'm at in the story. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jun 25 '19 at 16:28

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